What a difference a year can make.
When I was in Seoul last fall, the mood was dreary. Canada and Korea have a long history of diplomatic ties and Canada is home to the fourth largest Korean diaspora in the world. But the economic side of our relationship was failing to keep up.
Negotiations towards a bilateral free trade agreement, launched all the way back in 2005, were stuck in their tracks. Canada’s exports to Korea were growing at a much slower pace than they were in other parts of Asia. New agreements between Korea and the United States and Australia threatened to further undermine the market position of Canadian companies. Canada’s local beef marketing office was planning to shut down.
It seemed like our two countries were going in separate directions.
Trade talks are never easy and the legitimate concerns of key industries in both countries made it tempting to sweep everything under the rug.
But our leaders refused to let this happen.
In March, after renewed efforts by negotiators on both sides, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Park Geun-hye announced that a deal had been struck. This morning in Ottawa, they officially signed the agreement—Canada’s first with a major Asian economy.
The political energy that got us to where we are today will continue to be important. But now, more than ever, it’s up to Canadian and Korean businesses to step-up. We need to build on the partnerships we’re already seeing in industries like shipbuilding, renewable energy, retail, oil and gas and agri-food, among others.
And there’s more to our business relationship than making money in each others’ markets. Canadian and Korean business groups should also work together—as we are doing at APEC and the B20—to advance a common vision for open trade and investment in the Pacific region and around the world.
Towards this end, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Federation of Korean Industries will co-host a forum this afternoon for President Park and her delegation. Participants will discuss ways to use the momentum brought by the visit to boost bilateral trade flows and energy cooperation.
The international balance of power is shifting, and the economic and political trends of the future are less certain than they’ve been in a long time. I am confident that with Korea as our partner, Canada will be better-placed to navigate this rapidly changing landscape.